Meeting reports 2007 - 2008

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Thurrock Local History Society: 21st September, 07

At the first meeting of the season, Georgina Phillips gave a lively and informative talk to a large audience, on the Legends of Old Leigh. She spoke of the history of Leigh from the Bronze Age and Saxon times through the Middle Ages and on to the 19th century. In early days there was a ship building industry as well as a fishing fleet and there were well organised smuggling operations taking place in the creeks of Leigh, first recorded in 1275. In the 17 – 1800s the fishermen of Leigh, like other citizens, were burdened with the window tax, the hearth tax and contributions to the upkeep of the roads so to augment their income they smuggled rum, gin, brandy, tea, coffee, linen etc. The Peter Boat pub was the centre of the smuggling trade with tunnels built under ground to hide the contraband.

In 1749 the town had a visit from John Wesley spreading the word about his non-conformist church. The fishermen saw him “on the wall shouting to the wind” but they liked what he had to say and subsequently several Wesleyan chapels were erected.
There were many more tales including Sarah Moor, a sea witch, who told fortunes with the aid of a pan of salt water and sand, and of Dick Turpin who was involved in the smuggling trade before he became a highwayman and the ‘press men’ who hounded young boys and men to join the navy.

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting 19th October, 07.

Over eighty members and visitors came to hear an illustrated talk on the Barking Fishing Fleet by Mark Watson of Valence House Museum at Dagenham. He described how Barking had been associated with fishing since the Middle Ages when it was compulsory to eat fish on Fridays. The fisherman were good navigators and could possibly be needed in time of war at sea so Queen Elizabeth I made it compulsory to eat fish on Wednesday as well.

In Victorian times, the owner of a Barking fishing fleet, Samuel Hewitt, developed a boat called a Well Smack, which had a central well filled with sea water to keep the fish alive. Later ice was used to preserve the fish and the fishing fleet was kept at sea for as long as eight weeks at a time while smaller, faster boats collected the catch and ferried it off to Billingsgate. The Hewitts built an enormous ice house which stored enough ice to keep the whole fleet going throughout the year. Over 200 fishing vessels sailed from Barking by the 1850s and the people of Barking were dependant on industries that related to fishing such as shipwrights, cask makers, sail makers, waterproof clothing etc.

At the end of the 1850s fishing docks had opened at Grimsby and other ports on the east coast which attracted the Barking fishermen and by 1862 the Hewitts had relocated most of their fleet and within a few years almost all the related fishing industries had left the town. The association with fishing is commemorated to this day by displaying a Well Smack on the arms of Barking and Dagenham.         

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting 23rd November, 07

A large crowd came to hear the ever popular Peter Lawrence who gave an illustrated talk on the villages of East London. He began by explaining that the river Lee used to be the boundary between Essex and the county of Middlesex which bordered on the City of London. Twenty three of the villages in that area are now in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. The Stratford to Bow road was the main highway from Essex to London and all the farm produce and animals proceeded along this route into the London markets.  At the village of Mile End there was a milestone which marked one mile east of the boundary of the City of London at Aldgate. Mile End had a toll gate so that all who passed through to London had to pay towards the upkeep of the road.  During the 18th century rich merchants moved out of London and built fine houses along the Bow Road but eventually they moved further into Essex and in the 19th century the houses were turned into shops.

Other villages referred to included Stepney Green, the Isle of Dogs which was mostly inhabited by shepherds and sheep, Limehouse, Poplar, Shadwell, Spitalfields, and Bromley by Bow.  The churches of Nicholas Hawksmoor, assistant to Sir Christopher Wren, were described and also the story of the Huguenots, the Protestant immigrants from France who developed the silk industry in the East End.  This talk included many interesting anecdotes of life in the 18th and early 19th centuries before the villages had been swallowed up by the growth of Victorian London.

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting 14th December, 07

Roger Dorking, the guest speaker at the Christmas meeting, entertained the audience with tales of life as the son of a blacksmith who worked at the smithy at Witham. Apart from shoeing horses at the smithy, the blacksmith repaired farm implements and made ‘cold’ horseshoes to keep in stock.  He knew the size of the hooves of his ‘clients’ so well that when he received a message that a horse needed  to be shod he could visit the farm with the preformed shoe, to save the farmer bringing the horse into town.    As a young boy, Roger visited many farms with his father, covering a radius of 25 miles around Witham and coming as far as Brentwood.  Although he understood why his father enjoyed the life, he also witnessed occasions when he was injured by being kicked after momentarily losing his grip on the hoof.  For this reason, he decided not to follow in his father’s footsteps, so when he left school, Roger worked on the farm at Cressing Temple, famous for the mediaeval barns. A quiz on local history, won by Mrs Musson, a raffle with an abundance of prizes which raised over 100, and an appetising buffet, supplied by members, rounded off a very convivial evening.

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting 18th January, 2008

Guest speaker, Linda Rhodes, dressed in the Victorian costume of 1846 complete with poke bonnet, related the gory tale of the brutal murder of P C George Clark, a 20 year old police constable who had recently transferred from the East End of London to the village of Dagenham.  One night in June he went missing and was searched for extensively; four days later he was found battered to death, in a cornfield at Eastbrookend in a most fearful state of decomposition, shockingly mutilated and covered in blood.  In those days the constables were equipped with a sword and a cutlass and yet this strong young man had been overpowered and cruelly murdered, it was concluded, by more than one assailant.   A reward poster offering a 100 for information that led to the conviction of the offenders was posted around Dagenham, Ilford, Romford etc.  Although there were several suspects and at one stage, a trial, nobody was convicted and the mystery remains unsolved.  A book on the subject, “The Dagenham Murder”, co-authored by Linda Rhodes, won the Crime Writers’ Association Non-fiction Gold Dagger Award of 2006.

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting 22nd February, 2008

At the February meeting, James Ross, Conservation Adviser for Thurrock Council, gave an illustrated talk on the conservation of buildings and open spaces. He explained that in this area buildings range from Grade I listed, mostly parish churches, to the humble red telephone kiosk listed Grade II Group Value (GV). There are seven conservation areas; Fobbing, Old Corringham, East Tilbury, West Tilbury, Horndon-on-the-Hill, Orsett and Purfleet. Some buildings such as the Powder Magazine at Purfleet and the Fort at Tilbury are rated as Scheduled Ancient Monuments (SAM).

The church of St Mary at Corringham was given as an example of a Grade I building, the nave being Saxon and constructed from local stone plus it has a late Romanesque window in the tower. Contrasted with this were the flat-roofed houses of the Bata industrial village, listed Grade II GV and the Grade II Bata factory, both considered internationally important.
There are 240 listed buildings in Thurrock including the well-known Woolmarket and the Bell Inn in Horndon. In Orsett, apart from many listed buildings, the earthwork known as Bishop Bonner’s Palace is rated SAM. Church walls, hedgerows, trees and footpaths are important clues in dating the landscape. Belhus Park at Aveley is the only open space in Thurrock listed under the advisory category Registered Park or Garden (RPG). Among the twentieth century listed buildings in Thurrock are the State cinema, Grade II*, in Grays, and the Baggage Hall at Tilbury Riverside Station, Grade II, both with Art Deco interiors.

Thurrock Local History Society Meeting 14th March 2008

At the March meeting, Susan Yates gave a wide-ranging talk on the curiosities of Essex illustrated by photos taken on her many explorations throughout the County. She began with the story of the 7th century St Peter’s Chapel at Bradwell-on-Sea built by St Cedd using the stones of a ruined Roman fort. Several roadside war memorials were shown including the distinctive sculpture of a Mosquito aeroplane commemorating the 121 young men who flew from Bradwell Bay aerodrome and never returned. The talk included the round houses of Essex such as those at Canvey, Rayleigh and Finchingfield, the wooden church at Greensted, near Chipping Ongar, the memorial in St Clement’s churchyard, Leigh-on-Sea commemorating the fishermen who lost their lives after taking part in the rescue of allied forces stranded at Dunkirk in 1940. Also the round church of St John the Baptist, built by the Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem in the 14th century, one of only five round churches in the country. There were other interesting sights, such as the Borley Rectory said to be the most haunted house in Essex, which all gave an indication of the unusual aspects of the county of Essex.

Thurrock Local History Society Annual General Meeting 18th April 2008

The meeting began with apologies being recorded and the minutes of the AGM 2007 being agreed. There followed the Chairman’s Report which outlined the activities during the past year including the visit to Bletchley Park, Dickens’ Day at Rochester and the Houses of Parliament plus the Society’s attendance at Horndon Feast & Fair, the Party in the Park and the Orsett Show. She also gave a summary of the winter meetings which were very well attended, and of the speakers who had informed and entertained us..

There followed the Treasurer’s report and the election of Officers and committee members. There being no new nominations for Officers or members, the committee was re-elected en bloc. In view of the rising cost of speakers and of hiring the hall, the committee suggested raising the subscription from 7.50 to 9. It was suggested, from the floor, that it would be simpler to make the subscription 10 and this was agreed by a majority vote of the members.

After a break for refreshments, Kathy Ostler gave a nostalgic talk on her childhood in Wales and London during the war and Dennis Parker told us about the visit of a group of members of the St John Fellowship who travelled to Jerusalem to join in the celebrations for the 125th Anniversary of the founding of the St John Eye Hospital. The hospital is the major provider of eye care in the region and is supported by the funds raised by members of the Order of St John.


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